Chris Sciabarra recommended this book in a reading list on Facebook. Since social theory is something he knows a great deal more than me about, naturally, I had to read this book. I wasn't disappointed.
Bernstein's coverage is vast of social theorists. And he's well aware of controversies outside the field that touch on this. For instance? He covers criticisms of Thomas Kuhn. Being interested in philosophy of science, too often I hear from people who think Kuhn is the last word on the science. Bernstein is well aware that Kuhn's ideas have their problems and had criticis early on -- and that the problems are serious and the critics aren't merely reactionaries unaware of the history of science.
Anyhow, this book is from 1976, yet it feels fresh. It covers the "mainstream" empiricist/naturalist view (that social science is basically just like the natural sciences), and then goes on to look at three strands of revolt against that mainstream: from Anglo-American (or Anglo-Austrian given its pedigree from Wittgenstein) analytic philosophy, from phenomenology, and from critical theory. This is a good approach given that the critics are pretty much focusing on the same target, a target he introduces early and sympathetically to give the reader an understanding of what's under attack.
He narrows down each of these into a handful of thinkers, with the last two being narrowed to one major thinker: for phenomenology, Alfred Schutz and for critical theory, Habermas. If you know anything about social theory, they're big names and have both had much influence.
So why isn't this the perfect book on its subject? There's this huge passage of time. Even if it reads like a contemporary work, -- some of the issues are still live -- it's missing stuff like gender and feminism, postmodernism, culture theory, and post-colonialism. But any book on changing is going to be dated, especially after four decades. An update would no doubt have sections on all these, and relate them back to the others, as well as try to grasp, as he does, the common threads.
History aside, the main problem is the approach is abstract. He does give a few concrete details, but it would've worked out better if he took a few cases (of social study/theorizing) and applied each approach to them to illustrate how they worked and where they came up short. A problem here would be choosing examples that worked across the different frameworks, but it might be easy to choose ones that work for all and others that were more specific to each framework.
Another way to make this easier on the reader might have been tables and diagrams. Tables might work out well to shows the differences between approaches as well as to simply list out different things. For example? Well, with regard to Schutz, he mentions his basic concepts. A list rather than burying this in the text would be helpful for readers like me. Diagramming Schutz's 'world of everyday life' to show the interrelation between biography, typification, social dimensions would likewise give a better grasp. This is minor, but I'm sure teaching this in class, this is what's done -- as opposed to just reading text.Chris Sciabarra recommended this book in a reading list on Facebook. Since social theory is something he knows a great deal more than me about, naturally, I had to read this book. I wasn't disappointed.
Bernstein's coverage is vast of social…